Wellbeing During COVID-19

Returning to the Workplace

Step 4

Zoomed Out or Zoned In?

Information Technology (IT) is everywhere and is here to stay; it’s embedded in the fabric of our day-to-day lives. In the UK over 68% of all people have a Smart Phone (2019) and people spend on average 2 hrs 34 mins on them each day over and above time spent on computers, on average checking our phones every 12 minutes. The Office of National Statistics reports that in the 16 -24 year-old age group almost 100% have Smart Phones whilst in the over 65’s age group only 40% have them.

It would be impossible to imagine life without ‘Phones, Laptops, Desk Tops, Tablets. Any prospect of keeping organisations and businesses running during the COVID-19 crisis would have been impossible without the advances of technology in the last five years.  Millions of us have been working from home since the start of ‘lockdown’ – the biggest and fastest shift in working patterns ever seen.

Access to information, ability to store on The Cloud, significantly enhanced broadband speeds have all made “doing business” whatever that may mean, far easier and far more accessible.

You may well be one of those who in the last few weeks have had your eyes opened wider and wider to the sheer potential that IT can provide for working effectively and efficiently from virtually anywhere. Gone are the days of the Post Room and daily internal mail delivery rounds, or of standing by weird machines in the corner of the office waiting for the magic of fax communications to come through! 

We have truly seen the use of IT bound forward unabated and have cause to be grateful for the opportunity it has afforded for us to keep going in the workplace and to keep connected to family and friends, especially during these past months of enforced separation.

Conferences used to be major events in large hotels, round-table settings with colleagues travelling miles to be there, PowerPoint after PowerPoint presentations, rushed sandwich lunches, and the mad dash to finish in time to be on the road before the rush hour.   Now a conference is increasingly a click button screen experience and the appearance of familiar faces in unfamiliar surroundings looking astonished that somehow or other they have managed to click the right button, find the mute, adjust the screen resolution, and see moving images.    Hey Presto! We connect to each other via systems such as Skype, or Teams, or House-party, or Hangouts and of course by Zoom, which for some of us used to be a tri-coloured ice-lolly lurking in the ice-cream cabinet.   The new phrase for so many has become, “I’ve been busy all day on Zoom calls – I’ve not moved”.

Yet “I’ve not moved” has been one of the downsides of homeworking with numerous employees reporting how their physical and mental health has been affected by working from home. There has been a spike in musculoskeletal pain with more neck, back and shoulder pain than normal – now labelled ‘tech-neck’. Eye strain and headaches/migraines have also increased.  There has been evidence of 60% working longer hours at home, the stress of home-schooling and caring for others, and sharing a workspace with another working adult. While many employees have reported improvements in work-life balance, others have faced difficulties balancing homeworking.

Over 25 hours each week is spent by us on various forms of IT over and above our use in working hours.  We are spending more than two and a half hours each day just on our Smart Phones.  In the domestic setting it’s reported that because of our preoccupation with IT 48% of us neglect housework, 47% of us lose sleep, and 31% of us miss family time.  Mealtimes for many households are reported as being accompanied by our Phones rather than the bustle of family conversation and that more than 70% of people when watching TV are also engaged in WhatsApp, Instagram, or Facebook conversations at the same time.

Both our physical and our mental health may be seriously affected.  There is evidence that our “memory efficiency” is diminished by the “Google effect” in that we no longer actually need to remember things.  Professor Sir Cary Cooper coined the term “technostress” to describe how many of us have reduced rather than increased productivity by as much as 40% due to digital over-load.  Too much information coming at us from too many sources for too much of our time impedes our ability to focus and to work effectively.

So, is IT our servant or our master? Is our relationship to IT the “dog wagging the tail” with us in command, or is it the “tail wagging the dog” with all semblance of control utterly lost?

Think about how well you managed your IT connectivity during the last few weeks and as you prepare for the return to work what lessons you can draw from it. For example, did you find Zoom/Teams or similar engaging, helpful, and informative or were you eventually “zoom-bombed” or “zoned out” by endless and virtual meetings, more often than not back to back?  One study cites 43% of employees saying they don’t have enough time to get their work done.

We have to draw our own boundaries, manage our own time, and use IT to serve our needs in a positive and constructive way.   That would release its potential for good rather than its danger for doing harm.  Whilst all of us seem to be on the ‘phone incessantly, as many as 62% of us “hate how much time we spend” on them. We seem to be trapped by our own inventiveness or addiction.

This is the ideal time to consider how are you going to manage the various forms of IT as you move back into the workplace and/or work from home.  Digital wellbeing is still in its infancy with on-going research into the effects on our health and wellbeing of digital devices and our relationship with them.  The important point is for you to understand and appreciate the risks as well as the benefits IT brings and as with many things in life, applying the “everything in moderation” principle.


If you would like to discuss the relevance to your organisation, please call us